Northfield is a great weekend getaway

This column ran in the August 9 edition of the Northfield News.

Looking for something to do this weekend, something offering fun for all ages? As I recently read a metro newspaper travel section story featuring Des Moines, Iowa, I considered how I would write a “Weekend Getaway” column about Northfield. I think that the end result demonstrates that we’re a very attractive destination.

It would begin something like: Northfield is most often recognized for its history, particularly the defeat of the James-Younger Gang by its heroic citizens in 1876. Indeed, Northfield is celebrating its sesquicentennial this year.

However, for many people in Minnesota, Northfield is known for its thriving arts community. In addition to literally hundreds of artists in the area, there are many galleries, studios and performance spaces in the town.

And setting the scene for travel readers would be easy: Northfield is located along the Cannon River, about 45 minutes south of the Twin Cities. Its historic downtown and pedestrian-friendly shopping district is nestled between the two hills that are home to Carleton College and St. Olaf College.

The downtown features wide sidewalks, the shade of trees, plenty of free parking and a beautiful river walk. The shops are locally owned and creatively finished.

To attract visitors now, we could sell them on the Northfield Arts Guild and the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation’s 10-day arts event called ArtSwirl, which runs through Sunday.

The festival offers visitors a wide variety of entertainment options including plays, recitals, concerts, gallery visits, poetry readings, art, architecture, garden and studio tours, all in Northfield’s one-of-a-kind, pedestrian-friendly, history-rich community.

ArtSwirl is not only an opportunity to get out of the house and have a special kind of weekend, it’s an opportunity to celebrate the arts in all forms and at all its venues in this exceptional communitysoon to be recognized as an Art Town.

Even more incentive to visit Northfield this week is that Thursday night, New Orleans-style buskers will join a variety of other street performers in downtown’s mix of unique shops and restaurants. Also on Thursday the Northfield Sesquicentennial Committee, with support from the Northfield Arts Guild and the Northfield Public Schools Community Services Division, will host a community 150th birthday party for the town in historic Bridge Square.

On Friday, there will be a walking tour of the historic architecture of downtown Northfield. That night, there will also be a performance of Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” at Central Park’s outdoor stage and a performance of Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” at Carleton College’s Arena Theater.

Saturday starts off with a walking tour of the public art throughout the community that begins in Bridge Square and is hosted by ARTrail. “The Comedy of Errors” and “Brighton Beach Memoirs” continue. Saturday also marks the beginning of the Art Studio Tour of Northfield and the surrounding countryside.

And if travel readers would need even further enticement, you could write that there are more than two dozen establishments downtown that not only offer coffees, food and beverages but are those wonderful “Third Places” that nourish relationships, create community, strengthen citizenship and provide an opportunity to unwind. Stop in for informal business networking, breaking political news and tips for social activities and don’t be surprised if there is the work of the many talented local artists on the walls.

Des Moines is more than 400 miles away. That’s six hours of driving and probably $40 of gas. Downtown Northfield is a mile or two at most, maybe five or 10 minutes of driving and less than 25 cents in gas. So save your time for ArtSwirl and your money for dining and shopping and this weekend, we’ll see you downtown.

That would be a compelling travel section story.